We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
When it comes to smartwatches, runners need a little somethin’ special: stellar heart rate monitoring, a GPS with accurate precision, turn-by-turn guided navigation, and interval breakdowns. Some of these techy delights are like bringing along your own personal trainer on every run. But the features that’ll work best for you obvi depend on the type of running you do and what your running goals are.
A running newbie who only laces up their shoes on the weekend doesn’t need every perk on the market. Ultra runners, on the other hand, might have to sacrifice a few features to get a watch with the battery power to outlast their next race.
If you’re not sure where to start, pls don’t run off. We’ve done the legwork to bring you the best smartwatches for runners. Our picks range from budget models (with surprisingly amazing features) to top-of-the-line watches that do everything but run for you.
Smartwatches range from a basic fitness tracker to a wrist-sized GPS, music player, and smartphone. We reached out to Becky Wade Firth, a pro runner and author of Run the World, to get the inside info on what to look for in a smartwatch:
“No GPS watch is perfectly accurate (yet), but I want it to be roughly accurate and consistent,” says Firth. After all, a watch that doesn’t track your route or distance correctly can throw off your training.
We looked for watches with access to at least two different satellite systems. As Firth explains, “A strong signal that catches quickly and doesn’t drop going under underpasses and through short tunnels,” again, lets you focus on your run and not worry about your watch. Overlapping coverage ensures a strong GPS signal wherever you are.
Accuracy can also come into play with heart rate monitors and other biometrics. Some runners may want a heart rate monitor to consistently log and graph your heart rate over time and a blood oxygen meter to measure oxygen levels. You’ll want these metrics to be as accurate as possible so you can properly adjust your training intensity, distance, and times to maximize each workout.
For Firth, simple works best: “I really only use a few features in a watch: current time, run time, distance traveled, current pace, average pace, elevation gained and lost…” Firth admits that she prefers the basics over bells and whistles, but when you’re running hard the basics will let you focus on your run.
Even if you do want more bells and whistles, we made sure to include picks that are easy to use so you’re not fumbling with settings on the run.
Finally, Firth suggested good battery life. “If I have to charge my watch more than once a week, it feels a little burdensome.” That may be especially true for distance runners like Firth, who may use GPS and music for a long run, quickly using up the battery.
All of our picks are known for solid battery life (or quick charging capabilities) so you’re not worried about a dead watch before pounding the pavement.
Best for Apple users
- Price: $$
- Specs: elevation tracker, heart rate monitor, blood oxygen sensor
- Connectivity: cellular, Wi-Fi, NFC, GPS, Bluetooth
- Pros: provides detailed health information while running, tracks route and elevation, quick, 90-minute charging
- Cons: expensive, approximately 18-hour battery life
Apple users won’t find a better smartwatch for their next run. This model features everything a runner needs — from a GPS and elevation tracker to a built-in heart rate monitor and blood oxygen sensor (though the blood oxygen sensor is a little spotty).
The heart rate monitor provides better accuracy than previous Apple watches, and the quick charge feature lets you top off your battery before your run.
Another cool feature? You can take calls right on your watch during your run (not that you want to do that… but it’s an option!). That’s great as a safety feature and for parents who need to stay in contact with their kids while they’re out or if you’re expecting an important call. Users tend to love all of the health information this smartwatch provides, and it’s hard to beat the connectivity options. Plus you can press the SOS feature if you need help.
One of the most common complaints is the battery life. It’s only got about 18 hours. All it takes is tracking a long run and a few phone calls to blow the battery — but it charges in as little as 90 minutes.
Best for trail runners
- Price: $$
- Specs: elevation tracking with hill splitter, heart rate monitor, VO₂ max estimate, visual map display, built-in compass
- Connectivity: GPS, Bluetooth
- Pros: GPS includes speed, distance, and route guidance; plan and track multi-day trips using Komoot; long battery lasts several days; incredibly accurate biometrics
- Cons: expensive, split hill elevation tracking is somewhat unreliable
The Polar Grit X offers a wide range of tracking features and support for those who like to go off-grid. A built-in GPS and an optical heart rate sensor let you stay on top of your location and exertion levels. It’s also a legit option for runners who like to cross-train because this thing can track up to 130 (!!!) different sports. The accurate biometrics let you keep tabs on your heart rate and distances no matter what sport you’re doing.
This watch works with the Komoot app to provide workout prompts and recommendations, plus route guidance while you’re on the trail. It also analyzes your output to provide fueling tips. The rugged design looks more like it was meant for the trail than the boardroom, making it a favorite among adventurers.
There are some premium features like split hill elevation tracking — which is supposed to recognize when you’re on the ascent or descent and show your times for each — that aren’t as reliable as they could be. It takes the watch a long time to automatically kick in and it sometimes misses some of the shorter climbs.
Best user experience
- Price: $$$
- Specs: barometric altimeter, heart rate monitor, built-in compass, visual navigation, interval training guidance
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, GPS
- Pros: touch screen with three intuitive side buttons, high quality display, accurate barometer and altimeter, tilt compensated digital compass, GPS functionality
- Cons: battery life goes down quickly the more features in use
When you’re sucking wind, easy navigation is important. The Suunto 9 Baro’s touchscreen and button design offer excellent sensitivity and fast AF navigation. While there’s a long list of sub-menus, getting back to the main screen is only a few swipes away. You can also scroll through menus using the side buttons — a major 🔑 for navigating it when it rains or if you’re wearing gloves.
The GPS functions beautifully, especially when used with the Suunto Movescount App. Through the app, a heat sensor map shows you the most popular routes and helps you select a course. It also tracks your runs and creates a map for you when you’re done.
Runners who stray off the beaten trail will appreciate the digital compass. It’s tilt-compensated, meaning you don’t have to have your wrist flat for it to provide accurate readings. The compass combined with the app’s mapping keeps you safely on course.
One of the few downsides of this watch is the battery life. On the surface, the battery life is amazing. If you only use the watch mode, it can last 14 days. But once you start turning on the digital features, that power drops. GPS tracking, altimeter readings, and notifications can quickly drain the battery so that it only lasts about 20 hours. But the good news is that the watch lets you know when it’s starting to run low so you can get that thang charged before your next run.
Best GPS and navigation
- Price: $$$
- Specs: heart rate monitor, abnormal heart rate alerts, blood oxygen sensor, barometric altimeter, built-in workouts, audio prompts
- Connectivity: GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+
- Pros: available training information — load, status, effect; GPS and navigation accuracy (especially map routing); workout recommendations
- Cons: expensive, precision of biometrics
The Garmin 945 is one of the absolute best smartwatches for runners, especially serious runners who want to analyze their workouts. But the GPS and navigation is what makes it a real winner. It’s got the precision and accuracy to keep you on course, track distance and altitude, and plot your next run.
Runners will also appreciate the ability to create interval sessions. The watch coaches you through them, providing plenty of info like lap times, pacing information, and heart rate. The 945 can help you customize workouts with all this added info right at your fingertips.
It also tracks your workout load over 7 days to let you know if you’re over or under training. It’ll also give you status updates and the overall effect of your training on your health.
All of those features also come with impressive battery life, even when they’re all in use. With the GPS, it can go for 36 hours, though that number will drop by about 10 hours if you’re also using music. Still, that’s over 24 hours of battery life when everything’s in demand.
The downside — the price. You pay heavily for all of those extra features, the accuracy, and the battery life.
Best for fitness tracking
- Price: $
- Specs: heart rate monitor, blood oxygen sensor, advanced training features (downloadable training plans, VO₂ max, and respiration rate), cadence information
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, ANT+
- Pros: excellent basic fitness tracking features — distance, time, cadence; add tracked activities through Connect IQ; provides estimates of your body’s fuel reserves; accurate biometrics; streams music
- Cons: broadcast mode can have issues
The Garmin Vivo Active 4 may not have all of the fancy features of more expensive models, but it does the basics — like tracking your heart rate and blood oxygen levels — with accuracy and reliability. It can also calculate your cadence to help you pace your runs.
This watch has some pretty impressive features for this price point:
- tracks a wide range of exercises — and you can add more through Connect IQ (basically the App Store of Garmin devices)
- has impressive GPS tracking that locks onto satellites within seconds of turning on and provides navigation tips
- can stream music
Though it has good battery life, using the GPS and music at the same time reduces the battery life down to 6 hours.
The downside with this model is the broadcast mode, which uses ANT+ (kinda like Bluetooth) to broadcast your heart rate to another device (like if you use a Garmin bike GPS). Unfortunately, it’s fairly unreliable. Thankfully, that’s not the only way to monitor your heart rate with this model — the wrist heart rate monitor is much more accurate.
Best for cross-training
- Price: $
- Specs: heart rate monitor, heart rate sensor and notifications, goal-based exercise modes, blood oxygen sensor, altimeter
- Connectivity: GPS, GLONASS
- Pros: always-on display, automatically recognizes over 20 workouts, including indoor and outdoor swimming, heart rate zone notifications, monitors weekly activity goals rather than daily, provides VO₂ max estimate, excellent sleep tracking
- Cons: relies heavily on the app for added features
The Fitbit Versa 3 leans more toward fitness tracking than navigation — but when it comes to fitness tracking, it definitely understood the assignment.
It automatically recognizes over 20 different types of workouts, including indoor and outdoor swimming. It also includes a built-in GPS to track distance and route.
Where this model really shines is the fitness information it offers during and after your workouts. Not only does it measure your heart rate, but it also provides heart rate zone information and notifications. Zones include fat burn, cardio, and peak. If you’re doing intervals or fartleks, that information can help you adjust your pace according to your heart rate.
The Versa 3 relies heavily on the FitBit app to provide extra information, like an estimated VO₂ max. TBH, it’d be ideal if you could get that info from the watch itself — but for basic fitness tracking, the Versa 3 provides accurate navigation, heart rate, and timing information for a wide range of sports.
Best for distance runners
- Price: $$$
- Specs: heart rate monitor, abnormal heart rate alerts, blood oxygen sensor
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+
- Pros: impressive battery life, up to a year with solar charging, durable materials and construction, estimates VO₂ max while in use, ultra run feature, multi-GNSS (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) provides accurate location data where GPS data might be lacking
- Cons: expensive, lacks full mapping support
What do distance runners need more than anything? A solid battery, duh.
The Garmin Enduro has the battery power and timer features for half and full marathons and even ultra runners. Based on the features in use and whether or not you activate the solar charging, the battery can last anywhere from 50 to 65 days (!!!). Full GPS mode can last 80 hours with the solar charge or 70 hours without it. That’s a whole lot of hours, my friends.
But obvi, those impressive battery runtimes come at a cost. To keep the battery ticking, this Garmin doesn’t have full mapping and it doesn’t play music. You also can’t use as many apps directly from the watch. Would this watch be handier with more mapping and music? Probably. But if you want a watch that can keep up with a day-long event, it’s worth skipping those extras.
The Enduro takes all the usual readings — from heart rate to blood oxygen levels — and it caters to those competitive distance runners with an ultra run feature. This feature stops the clock at water stations, so you can strictly keep track of your running time.
- Price: $$
- Specs: abnormal heart rate alerts, blood oxygen sensor, heart rate zone information, interval training, downloadable training plans
- Connectivity: GPS, Glonass, Galileo, Bluetooth, ANT+
- Pros: excellent fitness tracking features, lightweight but durable design, virtual trainer helps improve workouts, excellent GPS coverage, solar charging
- Cons: overly strong haptic feedback
The Garmin Instinct Solar goes back to basics with a no-frills outer design, but it doesn’t sacrifice features. It’s lightweight on the wrist — perf if you hate a clunky fitness watch. There are def lighter watches out there, but none with the durability and features of this one.
It provides accuracy with heart rate, oxygen levels, and GPS tracking. You can download routes you’ve created yourself or ones created by others and get minute-by-minute instructions while you run.
This model also offers a virtual trainer that can help you set a consistent pace, which is a big benefit to running veterans and beginners alike. We also like that it offers solar charging, significantly extending the battery life. It can go a few weeks between charges.
This model doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the more expensive watches. But the only real downside is the overly enthusiastic haptic feedback. When it’s time to notify you, this watch really starts buzzing. It will make you think twice about what’s worth a notification and what isn’t.
Best for training
- Price: $$$
- Specs: heart rate monitor, integrated GPS and route planning, training load information, built-in performance tests
- Connectivity: GPS, Bluetooth
- Pros: can track up to 130 sports, reliable and accurate GPS routing, provides information on training load status, provides recovery recommendations, includes fuel recommendations
- Cons: lagging touchscreen and pacing info
Tie on your trainers because the Polar Vantage V2 provides accurate tracking for over 130 sports. (Are there even 130 sports worth tracking…? Apparently yes). No matter what sport you’re doing, you get reliable and accurate GPS routing, but that’s not what makes this a standout for training.
The Vantage V2 analyzes your training data to give you updates on your load status. That information helps you decide whether you’re working hard enough or not. After that, it gives you recovery and fuel recommendations. It’s kind of like a reverse Tamagotchi. Or like having a trainer and nutritionist on your wrist.
What you won’t get with this model are offline music and extra apps. The touchscreen and the pacing info is also a little laggy.
Best bang for your buck
- Price: $
- Specs: heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, built-in compass
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS
- Pros: lightweight, splits and interval training features, training load information, always on, excellent satellite positioning
- Cons: screen is hard to see when not backlit
If you don’t have a fortune to spend on a smartwatch, you don’t have to give up too much functionality with the Coros PACE 2. This lightweight watch (only 29 grams) packs in a lot of features, including training load information, so it can help you determine if you’ve worked out enough or if you might be overtraining.
The PACE 2 snaps into satellites, so you get quick GPS tracking and feedback. For the price, you get impressive positioning almost instantly. It also has a solid list of fitness tracking features like an altimeter and heart rate monitor. But something it has that more expensive watches may not are cadence and stride distance information.
What this model lacks in some of the more detailed features like turn-by-turn instructions, it makes up for with its impressive GPS and accuracy in the features that it does have. The only place it really falls short is the display. The display is bright and easy to see as long as it’s backlit. But in bright sunlight, if you don’t have the backlight on, you might have to shade it to see.
Smartwatches can add invaluable information and tracking to your workouts. At their most basic, smartwatches keep you on route and on time. They’re designed to replace your phone, so you don’t have to wear an armband or running belt if you’ve got a smartwatch.
Some models let you preload your route and offer directions like Siri does in your car. Others just record your route so you can see where and how far you went.
But some models have even more sophisticated features that can act as an onboard personal trainer. These smartwatches either contain or allow you to upload different workouts and provide prompts while you run. They can help you establish your cadence, pick up the pace, or let you know if you’re working too hard.
The only real downside to a smartwatch while running is if the watch isn’t working. Sometimes you can spend so much time fiddling with the watch that you miss out on your workout time. And that can be frustrating AF.
There’s a lot to think about, starting with:
- Running type. Are you a casual or competitive runner? The amount of money you invest will vary by the type of workouts you do. If you’re a casual runner, you might only need GPS tracking and an accurate heart rate monitor. Chances are you don’t need interval trackers or altimeters and you might not even need guided navigation. Competitive runners, on the other hand, may need all of that plus workout load and recovery recommendations that come on premium smartwatches.
- Distance. Do you run sprints, mid-distance, or long-distance? Even Firth, who specializes in everything over 3,000 meters, enjoys using a watches split features. For sprinters, that’s even more important as is time tracking and stopwatch features that are easy to activate. Long-distance runners need a battery life that will outlast them while the GPS and music are running.
- Touch screen vs. buttons. Touch screen and buttons can influence your user experience. Most people find a combination of the two to be the most effective. It helps to have a model that has an easy-to-use touchscreen and buttons that you can use when the touchscreen isn’t convenient — like if you’re wearing gloves, it’s raining, or you want to be able to use the watch without actually looking at it.
- Battery life. High-end features like guided GPS navigation, music, and notifications eat up battery life. If you want to use all those features simultaneously, you may need to charge the watch every night or spend a little extra on a more powerful battery. Models with solar charging can extend the battery life and prevent the watch from giving out part way through your run.
- Extra features. Not everything has to be about running. Quick GPS locating, fast processors, and design elements might be important for when you’re not sweating your guts out. Sleep tracking, handwashing countdown timers, and always-on altimeters or displays could be what squeaks your duck. The case finish and band options might make a watch comfier (and prettier) than another model, too.
Smartwatches can replace your phone when you’re tacking on miles. When you’re picking the right one for you, considering what kind of runner you are is a MUST. If you’re a little casual about your running, you probably don’t need built-in training and recovery recommendations. A reliable heart rate monitor and GPS distance and speed monitor might be all you need. Plus, a few notifications on the side.
Competitive runners — there are some impressive smartwatches out there for you. From models with several months’ worth of battery power to models that prompt your every turn, these watches record and analyze your stats while keeping you on route and on track for progress.
Pick a watch, sync it up, and get yourself back out on the road.